The world has seen more festive reactions than the one that followed New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham earned his first career Special Teams Player of the Month award.
For one, Graham learned he was the best special teams performer in the NFC for Weeks 5 through 8 when Panthers kicker Graham Gano sent over congratulations via text message hours before the Saints won at Carolina on Thursday night.
“I don’t do social media,” said Graham, who initially missed both the NFL’s and the Saints’ announcement of his award on Twitter. “Graham Gano ... was the first person to tell me.”
A day after the award was announced,, Saints coach Sean Payton said, “I get on (Graham) sometimes just about keeping that edge and that focus. ... He knows that every once in a while I am not going to pet him.”
But don’t feel bad for Graham. That kind of treatment is exactly why he enjoys playing for the Saints, his the ninth team since 2001.
“The coaches hold you accountable when you don’t do well; and even if you don’t do perfect but still are successful, they still hold you very accountable,” Graham said. “I like the fact that I have the pressure of the way it could come down on me if things don’t go right.”
If pressure is what Graham prefers, he put plenty on himself at the beginning of the season. After making the three field goals and seven extra points he tried for the Saints (4-4) in Weeks 1 and 2, Graham had a PAT deflected wide in a 20-9 win at home against Minnesota on Sept. 21.
He then booted what would have been a 41-yard field goal wide right in a 38-17 defeat at Dallas a week later. Though he made another kick in that game, folks linked the miss to three others he’d had this calendar year: an extra point from the experimental distance of 33 yards in an exhibition in August as well as two field goals he failed to convert in windy, rainy Seattle during a loss in the divisional playoffs last season.
Some outsiders wondered whether his job was in jeopardy. Others openly called for Graham’s ouster and hoped the Saints would replace him with any number of experienced free agents.
Yet the Saints stuck with Graham. And he’s so far rewarded their faith.
Graham was 9-for-9 on field goals and 9-of-9 on extra points kicked in the three games the Saints played in October, two of which they won.
One of Graham’s field goals — a 44-yarder — tied the Saints and Tampa Bay at 31 late in the fourth quarter Oct. 5 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That led to the Saints’ 37-31 overtime win.
As the Saints pummeled the Green Bay Packers 44-23 on Oct. 26 in New Orleans, Graham nailed all three of his first-half field-goal attempts, leading to a 16-16 halftime score. That was a factor in setting up New Orleans to pull away in the second half.
He was the only player to convert at least three kicks in every game his team played from Oct. 2 to Oct. 27. He then kicked four extra points Thursday in the Saints’ 28-10 victory at Carolina.
Midway through the season, Graham has a 92.9 field-goal percentage (13-of-14), which would represent the second-best of his career if he can maintain it. He is 24-of-25 on extra points (96 percent).
But Payton and Graham were reluctant to overstate what’s been a strong response to the veteran kicker’s early struggles.
For Payton, it’s possible he remains concerned from how ex-Saints kicker Garrett Hartley flamed out. After suffering through some early miscues in 2013, Hartley appeared to get it together by nailing a game-winning field goal as time expired at home against San Francisco last November. Four games later, however, Hartley missed two of the three field goals he tried in a loss at St. Louis. He was released and replaced with Graham.
“(Graham) has kicked well for us now the last few weeks,” Payton said. “To his credit, he works at it.”
As for Graham, he said it’s never been his style to think back on kicks, whether they went in or didn’t.
“All you can do,” Graham said, “is make the best of your next opportunities.”
There’ll be no shortage of them as long as he keeps it up.
Zordich joins practice squad
Free-agent fullback Michael Zordich Jr. agreed to sign with the Saints practice squad, his handlers at Tier 1 Sports Management announced Monday via Twitter.
Zordich played 51 games at Penn State, mostly at fullback, and joined the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted rookie in 2013. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while covering on the Panthers’ first kickoff of their preseason last year and spent the 2013 season on injured reserve.
Zordich returned to Carolina for the preseason but was waived in August. The move had not been processed by the NFL on Monday. Zordich’s arrival would come after Saints fullback Austin Johnson was sidelined for Thursday night’s win at Carolina with a knee injury, leaving only Erik Lorig at the position.